G.S. Sultan






Brooklyn-based Roy Werner’s moniker G.S. Sultan sounds like one of those funny projects, invoking oxymoronic names such as Fatboy Slim, but Big Beat be damned, this review is not about catchy loops, but looped catchiness. There is a difference between these two after all, even though it is an admittedly constructed difference solely used in order to delineate G.S. Sultan’s prismatic-spheroidal hora staccato called Ag_greatesthit, a seven-track album released on Mexico City’s greatest Drone/Glitch label Umor Rex Records. The album comes in the shape of a pro-dubbed silkscreen-printed chrome tape; an edition of 80 handnumbered copies has been produced by Umor Rex’s in-house designer Daniel Castrejón and can be streamed and purchased at Bandcamp. Distributed by Thrill Jockey and Morr Music, Ag_greatesthit doesn’t tell a specific story other than that it is curated instead of created from scratch. Roy Werner takes what the liner notes call a “ubiquitous Pop piece,” and then destroys, eliminates, annihilates its contextual pattern and habitual surroundings in order to build them anew, alter their highly polished state and erect a monolithic-rectilineal shrine of bursts, beeps and blobs juxtaposed with synth drones, slowed-down vocals and spectral messages. If this sounds suspiciously like that nefarious genre which starts with the letter V, then yes, Ag_greatesthit might ring a bell to aficionados of the genre. The production technique, bent frequencies, ameliorated reverberations and plasticity particles are, however, top-notch and immersive. Still, G.S. Sultan’s tape begs for a certain question which will be posed over the course of this review, and no, it is not the question about the real source of the artist’s amendments.


Like an uncanny pentagram, Ag_greatesthit confronts the listener with a nightmare: Pop music!


What better way to start a mercilessly Pop-induced tape other than with a swiftly approaching mirage of increasingly sumptuous, dreamily oscillating synth drones? This is what ag_greatesthit_mv.4 has in store. Reversely played flickers, Vaporwave-like elastics (there, I’ve saud it: Vaporwave!) that pester the vocals, shuffling percussion vestiges, the opener is aglow thanks to the euphoric hue that is emanated. The first track is more akin to a – excuse the offending picture – spermatocystic cascade than a mere Pop artifact. In-between the ghostly vocals and polyrhythmic snares resides the monotonous drone, its pulsating angelic aorta offering longitudinal languor. Even though there is not much else going on, the gateway to G.S. Sultan’s tape is eminently blissful and warmhearted, despite being based on an otherwise soulless core. The following ag_greatesthit_mv.6 distills a different hook from the seemingly unknown base frame. At first, Roy Werner takes the arpeggio fusillade to a new level, letting the female vocals appear chopped, cut and sliced, but also somewhat aqueous and mucoid. Soon enough, a semi-seraphic drone river bursts into the scene which itself turns more electric and buzzing as the alluvial stop-and-go tendrils continue to accrue and vegetate. The bleeps, blips and bits bounce bucolically between a certain element that already graced the first track: insouciance.


However, once ag_greatesthit_mv.5 is rolling, a certain austerity reaches the reel of the tape. Clanking like a rumbling train, based on whitewashed fugacity and short stops with silence in-between the machine-like epithelium, this spartan piece is powdered with thallium, enshrining its molten chords in a catenation of cauterized whispers, swooshes and paroxysms. What this cautiously industrial piece lacks in saturation, ag_greatesthit_mv.9 delivers proudly. Here, the beguiling rhizomes prosper yet again, the aural scents of syringa flow through the illumined cauldron. Yet again resemblant to a shuffling train, the photometry is based on cicada-oid snare agglutinations, aggrandized – in lieu of aggressive – synth streamlets and a heavily elongated male vocal that towers like a lavabo over the lava cesspool. This vocal then serves as a bridge to the adjacent appendix, an arrhythmic percussion tomb whose fibrillar rattles and shakers are indivisibly serrated, spawning flashbacks of an 80’s breakbeat. The adjacent ag_greatesthit_mv.3 meanwhile superimposes a glitchy 8-bit cauldron loaded with aquatic bubbles and viscoelastic blebs over a steam machine plasticizer that serves as the backdrop in this rotatory helix from hell. And once a corkscrew helix is spinning, turmoil ensues.


So far, the frequently mentioned euphony is only allowed to manifest itself between the shadowy interstices that occur within the inorganic shrapnel sequences, but G.S. Sultan is going to rectify this with his cherubic chimescape corker ag_greatesthit_mv.2. Again bursting at the seams with crackling flares, sparkling vesicles and a stuttering flack, the connectional adjuvant is a string of mauve synth cloudlets, all of them exuding a sanctuary, a better place that propagates fluorescence instead of efflorescence. Wondrously ablaze and then bent down in the last 20 seconds that altogether feel like a warped elevator reaching Earth, ag_greatesthit_mv.2 is a prime example of an altered Pop particle where vocals are replaced by shuffling wisps and saltatory glabellas. The finale ag_greatesthit_mv.8 then finishes the tape with a ctenidium of pointillistic Italo pianos, tumular tittles, jittering jots and micro moments of placidity. A moaning female vocal rounds off the strangely aureate endpoint. Instead of high-rise vistas, the earthen piano resembles a back alley pattern, a certain raucous roughness that is much more down to earth than the drugging thiazides before it. And so in the end, Werner’s offering is the cheeky apotheosis of a tape that gyres between a dead-serious effort, boosts of carefreeness and a little wink or two from time to time.


At the end of the tape, the mystery regarding G.S. Sultan is both delightful and dubious. The man behind the project is no enigma himself, but both the stylistic attitude and aural aptitude sure are. It is not entirely clear all the time whether Roy Werner mocks the source material or candidly tries to ennoble the plastic pericarp. One cannot be sure how to approach this tape, and as a reviewer especially, I thought of running into a trap or being harmed by a witty ploy more often than not. And this despite – or because of? – my frequent visits into the realm of Vaporwave, a non-genre genre that has been proclaimed dead in the water just a few milliseconds ago for the gazillionth time. I do definitely sense some vapor (s)traits in G.S. Sultan’s second full-length work, and they are not just evoked by the prolonged and pitched vocals, but also by the shimmering surfaces of the synths, the fuzzy snares and cautiously futuristic segues. The void of colors is hence all over the place, only held together by the physical and time-related boundaries of each track and of course the reel itself. There are undoubtedly experts out there who spot the source material immediately. Even if this were not the case, G.S. Sultan carves out Pop’s innermost nucleus: a euphonious sequence of chords, realized via gorgeous textures.


Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase and stream Ag_greatesthit at Bandcamp or get it from distributors such as Thrill Jockey and Morr Music. 
  • No surprise, Umor Rex tweets: @UmorRex.


Ambient Review 379: G.S. Sultan – Ag_greatesthit (2014). Originally published on Oct. 1, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.